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Feb. 20, 2005

NBA at the All-Star Break: Award Winners

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
While the most memorable moment of this season was the horrific fight that went on in Detroit back in November, by now, every one in the country who watched TV the week after that fight knows about it. I think the Food Channel broke in to its show "Iron Chef II: The Benihana Beatdown” to discuss the NBA melee.

That said, this NBA season has shown remarkable improvement. Scoring is way up, television production of games is much better, and attendance has been great in nearly all 30 cities. The Suns, Wizards and Sonics have proven that it is actually possible to win with a great offense, and in that respect, the biggest winners are the fans.

We have reached the All-Star Break of what has been a wacky and unpredictable season. It's time to take note of the year's biggest surprises (Phoenix, Cleveland, Washington, Seattle), biggest disappointments (Utah, Denver, Lakers, Indiana, New York) and the biggest in-season turnarounds (Memphis) with the All-Star Break Awards.

MVP: Steve Nash, Phoenix"16.4 PPG, 11.5 APG
It is rare that a guy scoring 16 points per game is ever considered for team MVP. For the Hornets. But not when that same guy is the runaway leader in assists on a team scoring 110 points every night. Steve Nash's return to the Suns has turned them from a sluggish team that didn't win 30 games last year, to a team that has already won 41.

I still think that a dominant center is more important than a dominant point guard. But, Nash made his most compelling case for MVP when he wasn't playing. With Leandro Barbosa running the point, Phoenix went 0-6, including a home loss to the Grizzlies where they scored only 82 points. That's far from a coincidence.

Nash opens up the floor for Amare Stoudamire, Shawn Marion, and the others who can fill up the basket at will. It's a similar effect to when Jason Kidd came to New Jersey and they made a complete 180-degree turn and made the NBA Finals. But Nash has been able to use the wealth of talent around him even better than Kidd did, and as a result, has been the most important player to his team this season. The Suns were criticized for overpaying for Nash. Turns out it was the best $55 million they ever spent.

Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor, Charlotte"14.8 PPG, 11.0 RPG
This is an easy choice. Okafor is the only rookie averaging a double double, and he's already the best player on his team. The Bobcats lucked out that Okafor came to them with the #2 pick in the NBA Draft, and he will be the face of that franchise for at least the next decade. Assuming his back stays together, he could be one of the best forward/centers in the Eastern Conference.

Coach of the Year: Mike Fratello, Memphis- 25-16 record
For this award, sometimes it's hard to know how much of an impact the coach really had on team's record. In the case of Fratello, it's much easier when you have the first four weeks of the season for comparison. He began this year as the color commentator for TNT and the Miami Heat, but after Hubie Brown retired, Fratello and assistant Eric Musselman stepped in to a team that was seemingly dead in the stacked Western Conference.

But Fratello has done a masterful job to say the least, taking a team that was 5-7 and had dipped to 6-12 and turned them completely around, into a club capable of a run in the Playoffs. The Grizzlies went on a 18-4 tear from Christmas to mid-February. There are teams with much better records; in fact, Memphis is 7th in the West, but in terms of righting a completely lost ship, there is no coach in the NBA who has done that this year the way Mike Fratello has.

Comeback Player of the Year: Grant Hill, Orlando- 19 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.6 APG
Another easy choice. Grant Hill hadn't played more than 30 games in a single season since 1999-2000 in Detroit, and now he's back from four ankle surgeries and putting up 19 points per game. This is a guy who thought he might never walk again, and who almost died two years ago. The fact that he can even run anymore is remarkable, let alone have a chance at being in the top 30 in scoring in the League. It's an absolutely remarkable comeback for, by all accounts, a terrific person.

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  • dan han on February 20, 2005 at 9:44 PM
    Here's my opinion:

    MVP: Lebron James. He's going to get Cleveland 55 wins this year and has put up the most impressive numbers of any guard.

    Rookie: I agree with Emeka Okafor. He has certainly contributed a great deal to the new Bobcats franchise.

    Coach: Realistically speaking, Mike D'Antoni of the Phoenix Suns. The suns have the second best record coming into all-star break; what a contrast from last year's debacle. But in my opinion (and due to my partiality for the home team), I would say Eddie Jordan of the Wizards. THey've impressed me very much this year and I've re-transformed myself into an ardent Wizards fan.

    Comeback: Although Grant Hill easily comes to mind, I would say Zydrunas Ilgauskas of the Cavs. He's been in the league for what, like 9 years already? But he's had so many injuries that he barely contributed to the Cavs franchise until last season. I have seen him play many times this season and I have to say: he's a great offensive player with a superb shooter's touch, especially as a big man. In addition, he's a pretty good shot blocker and, as a Captain of the cavs team, he brings leadership and experience. I believe he helps Lebron tremendously and without him, Cavs would be far worse than they are now. Grant Hill isn't a vocal leader on the team, nor is he so valuable. His numbers are that of a good player, not an essential player to a team.

    And that concludes my opinion.
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